Clemson University

Justin Miller eager to make good on return to N.Y.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Justin Miller spent a few anxious weeks home in Atlanta waiting for a call he wasn't sure would come.

The former Pro Bowl kick returner had been cut by Oakland earlier this season, and had workouts with Kansas City, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. Still, he was unemployed and facing the possibility that his career could be over at age 25.

"You have your thoughts and your ups and your downs," Miller said. "You think, 'Wow. Is this really the end? Am I going to get the chance to go back and really show I can still play and prove that I belong in this league?'"

He finally got that opportunity and ended up right where he started. The Jets signed Miller on Tuesday to replace the injured Leon Washington as the team's primary kick returner - two years after Washington replaced Miller.

"If it was up to me, I'd rather come back under different circumstances," said Miller, who has known Washington for several years. "It's a part of life and all we can do is keep going and pushing forward."

With Washington out for the year after breaking his right leg in New York's 38-0 win at Oakland on Sunday, it's Miller's time again.

"This is my fifth year and realistically, time has been invested in me before, so this is kind of the second go-around," Miller said. "It's like, 'Here's your chance. You've got to do it.'"

On the flight home from Oakland, special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum considered potential replacements for Washington.

Miller was the first guy Westhoff thought of.

"He's in the exact right place at the exact right time," Westhoff said. "This is certainly worth a chance to try. As I told Justin, we're looking to hit a home run."

It has been a strange journey back to the Jets (4-3) for Miller, who was the team's second-round pick out of Clemson in 2005.

In his second season, he was selected for the Pro Bowl after leading the AFC in return average. He injured a hamstring the following summer, then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a return against Baltimore in Week 2. Washington stepped in and became a Pro Bowl returner himself, making Miller expendable.

Miller was claimed by Oakland a day after New York waived him last November, and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns for the Raiders. He was released at the end of training camp, re-signed a few weeks later and cut again after one game.

"That's Oakland," said Miller. "That's about all I could say. If I got a clue what was going on in Al Davis' mind, I would tell you. I don't really know what's going on in that camp, to be honest."

Frustrated and his career dangling in uncertainty, Miller flew to New York last weekend with his best friend to get away for a while. He was checking on his home on Long Island, which he still owns from his first stint with the Jets, when his mother, Donna Bowman, called him and told him about Washington's injury. He then received a call from his agent saying the Jets were interested in bringing him back.

"Everybody knows what he's capable of doing," special teams ace Wallace Wright said. "Unfortunately, Leon's out, but now he knows the scheme and he's been here. Maybe it'll have that domino effect: He was here and was a Pro Bowler, Leon replaced him and was a Pro Bowler and now he's back."

Miller was known as a fun-loving, free-spirited guy in the locker room, but has appeared more low-key in his first few days back in green and white.

"I think I was forced to grow up earlier than the average player that comes into the league, and it was a lot for me," said Miller, who was 21 as a rookie. "I think through your highs and your lows, you learn humility and accountability and I think that's the only thing you can do is learn from experience."

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